A record Lunar New Year at movie theatres helped box office revenue in China pass the United States in February for the first time, making China the world's biggest box-office market for the month, according to research firm Entgroup.
The holiday brought in US$650 million (S$886 million) in the world's second-largest movie market, according to data from Entgroup.
The US total was US$640 million, and US$710 million for all of North America in February.
Before February, the biggest box-office month ever in China was July 2014, with US$580 million.
The Lunar New Year has become the peak movie-going period in China.
This year, it ran from February 18-24. Box office takings during that week alone amounted to US$270 million, according to data site 58921.com
The top movie in China for February was The Man From Macau II, starring Chow Yun-fat, which brought in US$104 million, followed by historical action movie Dragon Blade, starring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody, which had $95 million in box-office receipts during the month.
In third place was the $40 million Sino-French epic Wolf Totem, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, which brought in US$72 million.
In fourth was Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal, a US$30 million, 3-D, VFX fantasy action adventure co-directed by Peter Pau and Zhao Tianyu and produced by Ann An of Desen International Media, with US$56 million, followed by Xu Jinglei's romance Somewhere Only We Know with $44 million.
Running Man, an adaptation of a South Korean reality-TV format, made US$42 million in February.
In the US, the biggest Hollywood movie in the month was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which brought in US$36 million.
In 2014, box office returns in China surged 36 per cent, Zhang Hongsen, head of the film bureau under the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, told the Xinhua News Agency.
Last year's returns in the US were down more than 5 per cent, to an estimated US$10.35 billion, compared with US$10.92 billion in 2013, according to tracking firm Rentrak, and no movie made more than US$350 million from theatres in the US and Canada for the first time since 2007.
China's box office was boosted by strong growth in the number of theatres and screens. China added 1,015 cinemas and 5,397 screens last year, bringing the total number of screens to 23,600.
"On average, 15 more screens were added each day," Zhang said. A total of 618 Chinese films were produced in 2014, down from 638 in 2013.
More people went to see movies than ever in 2014, with viewers making 830 million trips to the cinema, up 34.5 per cent year-on-year, SAPPRFT said.
Earnings of 66 films surpassed the locally symbolic 100 million yuan ($16.11 million) benchmark last year, including 36 domestic productions. In 2013, 60 films surpassed that figure.
Analysts are predicting that 2015 will be a banner year for US movie theatres because of a strong lineup of blockbuster films and solid early returns, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 27.
The three biggest movie chains in the US are Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc and Cinemark Holdings Inc.
Despite a box office downturn, AMC Entertainment, which is owned by China's Dalian Wanda Group Corp, reported on February 17 that fourth-quarter earnings beat Wall Street's expectations.
AMC said earnings were 30 cents a share, while revenue of US$712.2 million was about in line with projections, according to Variety.
Analysts had projected earnings of 20 cents a share and sales of US$712.1 million, according to FactSet.
Net earnings for AMC came in at US$29.8 million, a steep decline from the $279.6 million the company recorded during the same quarter in 2013.
However, that was related to a one-time tax benefit of US$265.6 million.
AMC's success was helped by stronger concessions revenue, which increased 8.8 per cent to US$215.3 million, up from US$197.9 million in the year-ago period.